Here’s a riddle for you:
When is a Christmas ornament more than just a decorative symbol of the holiday season?
The answer: when that ornament brings about positive change, both locally and abroad, according to Marcia Mendola.
Mendola is speaking specifically about Gifts of Love, the ornaments commissioned each year by St. Louis Parish’s Haiti Team and sold at the Pittsford parish and a handful of other churches, as well as nearly two dozen retailers in the Rochester area. For years the ornaments have been handmade at Holy Childhood — formerly known as School of the Holy Childhood, which serves children and adults with developmental disabilities — and St. Michael’s Woodshop, which teaches inner-city teens life skills through woodworking.
The ornaments are sold for $8 apiece, and a portion of the proceeds from each sale returns to Holy Childhood and St. Michael’s Woodshop, Mendola said. St. Louis’ Haiti Team uses the rest of the proceeds to support St. Damien Pediatric Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. St. Damien is the only free children’s hospital in Haiti and was founded by Passionist Father Rick Frechette, who has been working to help the people of Haiti since the 1980s, Mendola said.
“Father Rick is world-renowned for his efforts,” Mendola said.
Described as “a visionary” in a December 2017 article in The New York Times, Father Frechette also has founded another hospital and an orphanage in Haiti; studied to become a medical doctor to better treat the Haitians he encountered; and started a ministry that provides dignified burials for the unclaimed bodies in Port-au-Prince’s morgues, Mendola said.
“He really takes care of human beings from conception to burial,” she added.
Mendola first learned of Father Frechette years ago when a St. Louis parishioner asked if the parish’s international outreach team could do something to help the Passionist priest, who was in the process of opening an orphanage in Haiti, she recalled. The parishioner had met Father Frechette by chance on a trip to Mexico and had been “astounded by this man’s charisma and good heart,” she said, noting that the outreach team had been looking for a new project to support at that time.
“We said yes,” Mendola said, and the parish’s Haiti Team has been supporting Father Frechette and the Haitian people ever since.
The ornament sale is one of the biggest ways the team raises funds for Haiti, but it is not the only way, Mendola said. Every year, Powers Farm Market brings large wagons full of corn to St. Louis Church during one weekend in September and sells the fresh corn after all Masses. For the last few years, the money raised from this annual corn sale has supported the Haiti Team, which also is currently selling Save Around Rochester coupon books.
The Christmas ornaments will be sold after all weekend Masses Dec. 7-8 at St. Louis as well as St. Paul Parish in Webster. They also are available for sale now at the St. Louis Ministry Center as well as such local retailers as Parkleigh, Pittsford Dairy, One World Goods, Rockcastle Florist and the Pendleton Shop.
“The merchants stock the ornaments from Halloween to New Year’s, and they don’t make any money from it. It’s all a pro-bono thing. Some of the merchants have been with us for all 37 years of this,” Mendola said.
The ornaments support the Haiti Team’s efforts while also supporting the local people served by Holy Childhood and St. Michael’s Woodshop, she added. Holy Childhood closed its ceramic shop this year, so this is the last year the sale will include new creations from Holy Childhood, Mendola said.
“We will be selling previous years’ ornaments next year when we have the sale again. This year, it’s their last new edition made solely for St. Louis’ efforts to help in Haiti,” she explained.
In recent years, Mendola said she has been impressed by the number of Rochesterians who have volunteered their time or talents in Haiti in the wake of the natural disasters that have plagued the country. She recently helped start the Rochester Area Haiti Network, which aims to foster connections between local individuals and groups who work to improve the lives of those in Haiti.
“Anybody can contact me. Tell me if you’ve been there. I’m not going to ask you to do more or to help me with what I’m doing, but we all need to show, for moral support, how many people just in the Rochester area try to help Haiti in one way or another ‚Ä¶ and Haiti is no bigger than the state of Maryland,” Mendola said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For a complete list of retailers that stock the Christmas ornaments, visit stlou ischurch.org. To learn more about the Haiti Team or the Rochester Area Haiti Network, contact Marcia Mendola at firstname.lastname@example.org.